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Taste of Dahntahn has its ups, downs

Background

When Bob Crawford and his wife, Courtney Lynch-Crawford, were planning a restaurant for the ground floor of the recently remodeled Dallmeyer Building, they knew exactly what they wanted.

Bob Crawford had owned a chain of 25 restaurants in Florida, and Courtney Lynch-Crawford owns Nine on Nine in Penn Avenue. For this new enterprise, they envisioned an upscale atmosphere that celebrated Pittsburgh's past and present, but was more casual than Nine on Nine's white-tablecloth decor.

Their 9-year-old daughter, Corrine, suggested they name the new venture "A Taste of Dahntahn." The restaurant opened Aug. 22, serving breakfast, lunch and dinner.

Lee Corbett presides over the kitchen as the restaurant's executive chef.

A native of Baltimore, he learned to speak Pittsburghese and accommodate to local appetites while serving as executive banquet chef and pastry chef at Hyeholde Restaurant and as chef de cuisine at Jackson's Restaurant, both in Moon.

Atmosphere

If the slightly akimbo martini glass doesn't grab your eye, the bright orange neon-outlined arrow and its exhortation "Eat Here! Great Food" surely will.

The attention-getting, retro-look sign near the intersection of Fifth and Liberty avenues alerts potential diners to Taste of Dahntahn.

Inside, the booths' tabletops are decorated with black-and-white photos of Downtown in the early years of the 20th century. Look closely and you'll find the Dallmeyer building in many of them.

A glossy red bar occupies a prominent space in the center of the front room, with a colorful mural of flappers and their escorts from the 1920s enlivening the wall opposite it.

You can opt to eat at the bar or continue in to one of the booths or even further to a group of cloth-covered tables in the back. In all, the narrow restaurant seats 90.

It's a good thing that there's an abundance of eye candy to draw your attention and spark conversation. When the restaurant is bustling, the staff struggles to keep up.

Some patrons seem to be getting VIP service, while others are ignored or experience long, unexplained waits between ordering a glass of wine and its ultimate arrival. Servers seem willing but overburdened or distracted.

The narrow room also causes traffic jams when a busboy carrying a tray of dirty dishes encounters an oncoming party of diners being led to a table.

Service was better on a second visit when there were fewer patrons, so this problem may be corrected with time.

Menu

Pity the poor out-of-towner encountering the menu without a translator.

Yinzer lingo -- Sammitches, Da Pittzas, Fried Green Tuhmaytuh, Da Kerneggy -- is sprinkled throughout the breakfast and lunch menus. Mercifully, there's less of it on the dinner menu.

That's no criticism of the local-centric choice of items themselves.

The Isaly's Chipped Chopped Ham BBQ ($7) is a delightful, almost-as-good-as-Mom's luncheon choice. A big soft hamburger bun is piled high with thin shavings of chipped ham covered in a mild but properly sloppy, drippy barbecue sauce.

Restaurant manager Kassandra Scribner says the Yuengling Battered Haddock Hoagie ($11) -- deep-fried filets of haddock wrapped in a 6-inch roll with shredded iceberg lettuce and Cajun remoulade -- is popular with the lunch crowd.

Others may enjoy a blast from Pittsburgh's dining past -- Da Original Devonshire ($9) -- slices of turkey covered with bacon and creamy cheese sauce served on Texas toast. Sandwiches are served with pickle and a side dish of fresh-tasting coleslaw. Many add an order of french fries ($3).

Dinner started on an upbeat note with an appetizer of Eggplant and Marzano Tomatoes ($7). The small casserole of comfort food arrived bubbling from the oven. Rounds of breaded eggplant and chunks of well-cooked tomato were held together by a generous coating of properly stringy, stretchy melted mozzarella and Pecorino Romano cheeses.

We were less happy with the Orange & Maple Grilled Salmon ($21).

Although the waitress asked how we wanted our salmon cooked and listened attentively, what arrived was seriously overcooked. The accompanying fresh asparagus also was overcooked, while the fingerling potatoes were underdone.

Spinach & Tillamook Cheddar Ravioli ($20) was much better. The huge pillows of cheese and spinach stuffed ravioli were tossed with big chunks of chicken breast, broccolini, fresh spinach, roasted peppers and a handful of pine nuts. A hearty Marsala gravy was a perfect accompaniment.

According to Scribner, London Broil Forced Meat ($17) has been a big hit with diners. Corbett uses ground beef, flank steak, pork and cheddar cheese in his meatloaf, sprinkles in a selection of secret seasonings and finishes it off with a tomato-reduction sauce and a side order of broccolini.

Plans are to review and refresh the printed menu at least twice a year. Those staple items will be augmented with seasonal specials offered verbally by the waitstaff.

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Additional Information:

Taste of Dahntahn

Cuisine: American fusion, Pittsburgh favorites

Hours: Breakfast: 6:30-10:30 a.m. Monday-Fridays. Lunch: 11 a.m.-2:30 p.m. Mondays-Fridays. Bar menu: 2:30 -5 p.m. Mondays-Fridays. Dinner: 5-10 p.m. Mondays-Thursdays, 5-11 p.m. Fridays-Saturdays, 5-10 p.m. Sundays. Brunch: 8 a.m.-2 p.m. Saturdays-Sundays

Entree price range: Lunch, $6-$14; Dinner, $16-$32

Notes: Major credit cards accepted. Reservations accepted. High chairs available. Live entertainment from the mezzanine Wednesdays through Sundays. $6 valet parking after 5 p.m. Wednesdays through Saturdays

Location: 535 Liberty Ave., Downtown

Details: 412-224-2240 or website

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